Cheddar Ale Soup with Dark Irish Soda Bread and Mixed Green Salad

The Luck O’ the Irish to You! 

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March is here and that brings us one day closer to Spring (March 20th for those of you keeping track)! I’m sure everyone’s heard the old adage, “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb,” which means we still have a few more weeks of crumy weather and comfort food to get through before the big (read sunny) payoff. So before you put away your crockpot and comfy pants and start pulling out your capris and old issues of Cooking Light magazine, we must first pay homage to St. Patty’s Day and all of the savory starches that hail from the great green country of Ireland.

Cheddar Ale Soup

This entire meal was incredibly quick and easy to whip up. I’m not exaggerating here; from the moment I started sautéing the veggies to when I had dinner on the table took less time than it did for my toddler to watch Toy Story 3 — her new favorite movie. (Time-Saving Tip: Make the bread first, then start the soup while the loaf is in the oven baking.) This soup can be easily adapted for vegetarians by following the “Vegetarian Modifications” at the end of the recipe.

Serves 6-8

  • 4 slices thick cut bacon
  • ¼ cup butter (½ stick)
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 stalks celery, diced, tops and leaves included
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 1½ Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1 12 oz. bottle lager-style beer
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (see recipes in Homemade Stocks)
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 1½ Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. hot sauce (such as Louisiana or Tabasco)
  • ½ tsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. Kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • Fresh cracked black pepper to taste
  • 4 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • ½ tsp. baking soda

In a large Dutch oven or wide-bottom soup pot, cook bacon over medium heat until crispy. Transfer bacon to a paper towel-lined plate, let cool. Dice and set aside for garnish.

Add butter to pot with bacon grease and melt over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrots, and celery and sauté until soft and beginning to brown, about 5-10 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add flour and cornstarch to pot and stir until both have dissolved. Continue to cook for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the flour/butter mixture begins to brown and bubble (this is called a roux). Add beer and stir to combine. Continue cooking until half of the liquid has reduced, about 3-4 minutes.

Add stock, milk, Worcestershire, hot sauce, chili powder, and salt & pepper. Stir to combine and reduce heat to medium-low. Bring soup to a simmer and allow to cook for 15-20 minutes or until starting to thicken. (Time-Saving Tip: While the soup is simmering, prepare the salad and make the dressing.)

With an immersion hand blender, purée soup directly in pot until smooth. Or alternatively, working in 2-3 batches, purée soup in a blender or food processor until smooth. Return to pot.

Add cheese and baking soda to soup and whisk until cheese has melted. The baking soda may cause the soup to foam for a few minutes, but it will return to normal once the cheese has melted. (Time-Saving Tip: If you have a smarty-pants husband like I do, don’t make the mistake of asking what causes baking soda to foam, otherwise you’re in for a 20-minute super boring explanation behind the science of sodium hydrogen carbonate, otherwise known as NaHCO3.) Season with more salt and pepper if necessary.

Ladle soup into preheated bowls and top with a salty mound of diced bacon. (This last part is optional, but really, why would you omit the bacon?! Unless, of course, you’re a vegetarian, in which case you can skip ahead to the Vegetarian Modifications just below the delicious photo of bacon… right here )

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VEGETARIAN MODIFICATIONS 

Omit the bacon and replace with:

  1. 1 Tbsp. olive oil when sautéing the vegetables
  2. ½ tsp. smoked paprika with the stock, milk, Worcestershire, etc.

Sidekicks:

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  • This is kind of a no-brainer, but pair with a thick and creamy Guinness — or if you can find it, an equally creamy but not-so-dark Caffrey’s Irish Ale.
  • Nothing compliments cheese better than bread and apples. Serve this rich soup with dark Irish soda bread and a mixed green salad topped with crispy apple slices and creamy herb dressing.

Dark Irish Soda Bread 

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Irish soda bread is a dense bread that’s slightly sweet — making it perfect to sop up the remaining drops of Cheddar Ale Soup clinging to the sides of your bowl. (Recipe form cookbook author Elinor Klivans.) 

Dark Irish Soda Bread

Makes 1 loaf

  • 2 Tbsp. melted butter, plus 1 Tbsp. softened butter for greasing the baking sheet
  • 1½ whole-wheat flour, plus more for the baking sheet
  • ¾ cup all-purpose white flour
  • 1 Tbsp. dark or light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. molasses
  • 1 cup low-fat buttermilk

Position a rack in the middle of the oven; preheat to 375°F. Lightly grease a rimmed baking sheet with softened butter, then sprinkle lightly with whole-wheat flour; tap to discard any excess flour.

Combine both flours, brown sugar, caraway seeds, baking soda, and salt in the large bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer. Mix to combine on low speed; add the melted butter.

Combine the molasses and the buttermilk; then add to the mixer bowl, on low speed; beat for a minute or two, until a soft dough forms. Gather the dough into a ball and roll it around in the palms of your hands to smooth it; the dough will not be perfectly smooth. Form into a 6-inch circle OR an 8-inch long oval and place on the prepared baking sheet. Use a smooth-edge knife to cut an X in top of dough, 1 inch deep (for round loaf), OR a 5-inch long, 1-inch deep slash along the length of the oval loaf.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the bread feels firm and crisp and you can see that the bottom has browned when you lift it carefully. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Serve with a big hunk of softened butter and a sprinkle of flaky sea salt. Yum!

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Mixed Green Salad with Apples and Creamy Herb Dressing 

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This simple, flavorful salad of mixed greens and crisp apples is a perfect palate cleanser between spoonfuls of rich, cheesy soup.

Mixed Green Salad with Apples and Creamy Herb Dressing

Serves 4

For Salad:

  • 4-6 cups mixed salad greens
  • ½ apple (preferably Pink Lady, Fuji, or Honeycrisp), cored and sliced paper-thin with a mandolin

For dressing:

  • ½ cup Half & Half
  • 2 Tbsp. vinegar (preferably sherry or red wine vinegar)
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 green onion, white and light green parts only, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh Tarragon, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. Agave syrup or honey
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Divide salad greens evenly among 4 plates and top with apple slices.

Whisk all dressing ingredients together until combined. Pour over salads.

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Creamy Roasted Beet Soup

Plan Ahead for Valentine’s Day

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Ah, Valentine’s Day; a day of love and romance, of cupids and hearts, of chocolates and roses. It’s also a day of frantically searching your closet for something red to wear, of purchasing last minute cards and gifts, and stressing about restaurant reservations that are almost impossible to snag unless you’ve planned 6 months in advance. So why not forget about all that craziness and enjoy a romantic evening at home with the one you love. Set the table, light some candles, and serve up a delicious, heart-warming meal.

Creamy Roasted Beet Soup

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You don’t have to like beets to appreciate this soup. No really. My husband isn’t a fan of beets, and he loved it! So did my toddler, in fact, her comments were, “It’s pink! And pretty! And sweet!” This colorful soup is bound to get your heart-beet going! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun.) 

Creamy Roasted Beet Soup

  •  2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 medium sized beets
  • 1 sweet yellow onion, diced
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • ½ inch fresh ginger root, peeled coarsely chopped
  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock (see recipe in Homemade Stocks)
  • 1 tsp. allspice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar (red or white wine vinegar would work, too)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4-6 Tbsp, sour cream for serving (optional)
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Serves 4-6

Preheat oven to 350°F. Scrub beets clean, then wrap in tin foil. Place in oven and roast for 1 hour, or until easily pierced with a fork. Let cool, then peel with a vegetable peeler. Cut into ¼-inch cubes. Set aside. (See Tips*)

In a large soup pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Sauté onions, carrots, and celery until soft and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and ginger root and cook for an additional 4-5 minutes.

Add stock, beets, allspice, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer. Partially cover and continue simmering for 30 minutes. Vegetables should be very soft. Add vinegar and salt & pepper and cook for another few minutes. Remove bay leaf.

Purée soup with an immersion hand-blender right in the pot; or in two batches, purée soup in a food processor or blender until smooth. Return soup to pot.

Add heavy cream and heat, stirring until soup is creamy. Ladle into pre-warmed bowls, and top with a dollop of sour cream. Serve hot. (See How To* for instructions on making sour cream hearts.)

*Tips: Beets can stain hands, clothing, cutting boards, and light-colored sinks and countertops. To avoid turning everything in your kitchen red, wear kitchen gloves while handling beets, and peel over an open plastic bag set in the sink.

*How To: To make sour cream hearts, whisk sour cream in a small bowl until runny (you may need to thin with a drop or two of water). Gently place a drop of sour cream on the surface of the soup, either in the middle or in a series of small drops along the edge. Starting about a ¼-inch above the drop, slowly drag a bamboo skewer or toothpick through the center of the drop, swooping away, creating a tail.

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Sidekicks:

  • Serve this elegant and slightly sweet soup with a glass of sparkling Rosé; my favorite is Veuve Clicquot Rosé (pictured below).
  • A spinach salad with strawberries, almonds, and pomegranate vinaigrette not only looks stunning next to this soup, but the bitter greens and tangy dressing also offset the sweetness of the beets (recipe follows).

IMG_1834 Vueve Clicquot Rosé

Spinach Salad with Strawberries, Almonds, and Pomegranate Vinaigrette

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To make strawberry hearts, use a sharp knife or strawberry huller to carefully remove stem and hull from strawberry. Cut strawberry lengthwise in ¼-inch slices, then use knife to round tops, creating a heart.

Spinach Salad with Strawberries, Almonds, and Pomegranate Vinaigrette

Salad:

  • 8 cups spinach
  • 2 cups hulled and sliced strawberries, about 6-8 strawberries
  • ½ cup slivered almonds

Vinaigrette:

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar or rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. agave syrup or honey
  • ¼ cup pomegranate juice (preferably Pom Wonderful)
  • ¼ tsp. ground coriander
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Serves 4

Wash spinach and pat dry, and place in a large salad bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk together vinaigrette ingredients until emulsified.

Dress spinach with vinaigrette and divide evenly onto serving plates. Place strawberries on each salad, then top with slivered almonds (dividing evenly).

Stuff My Kid Eats – Chicken Paillards with Squash and Spinach and Red Quinoa

Stuff My Kid Eats

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Food is huge part of daily life in our household. We eat it. We discuss it. We take pictures of it. We blog about it. So, it’s no surprise that as soon as my toddler wakes up in the morning, she wants to know what’s for breakfast. And not 20 minutes after breakfast, she wants to know what’s for lunch. Breakfast and lunch are her favorite meals — she usually gets to choose her main course (within reason), then is subjected to my side-dish-of-discrestion (vegetables). Now, here’s where our day falls apart: dinner. Inevitably, somewhere between lunch and our afternoon activities, she will ask, “What’s for dinner, Mommy?” Ugh! I dread this questions. I have nightmares about this question. I usually sugarcoat the answer to avoid a meltdown, and I always lead with the starch: “Rice with super yummy sausage and beans!” or “Risotto with pretty pink shrimp!” This works about 50% of the time. But, for whatever reason, if my answer contains the word chicken, she falls to the floor in tears, wailing, “Nooo, not chicken!” I don’t understand this. She loves chicken. She can eat her weight in chicken. It’s the single most popular food item that she will clear off her plate every time I serve it. EVERY. TIME.

Below is a dish, that when spoken aloud, sends my child into another universe with despair, but always inducts her into the “clean plate” club. It’s simple. It’s delicious. But it could probably use a better name; maybe “Sweet Squash with Spinach Pinwheels and (spoken softly)…chicken.” Again, good luck! I know you’ll enjoy it, hopefully your kids will, too.

Chicken Paillards with Squash and Spinach

Chicken Paillards with Squash & Spinach

This recipe comes to you by way of my former employer, Martha Stewart, and is an easy way to prepare deliciously tender chicken breasts. You can put your own personal touch on this versatile recipe by experimenting with other toppings such as oven-dried tomatoes, chopped Kalamata olives, and feta cheese; or fresh diced tomatoes & avocados with cilantro leaves and a squeeze of lime. (Recipe from Martha Stewart Living)

Serves 4

½ small kabocha squash, unpeeled, seeded and cut lengthwise into ¾-inch slices (see Tips*)
1 small red onion, cut into wedges, root end attached
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 skinless, boneless chicken-breasts, halved (see How To*)
Kosher salt
Red-pepper flakes to taste
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
6 fresh sage leaves (from about 4 sprigs)
1 cup baby spinach leaves

You will also need:
Plastic wrap
Meat mallet

Preheat oven to 425°. Distribute squash and onion evenly on 2 rimmed baking sheets. Drizzle with 1 Tbsp. oil, season with salt, and toss to coat. Spread in a single layer and roast until squash is tender, about 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, pound chicken to a ⅛-to-¼-inch thickness. Season on both sides with salt and red-pepper flakes (see Tips*). Heat a large skillet to medium-high heat. Swirl in remaining Tbsp. oil, then butter. Fry sage until just crisp, about 30 seconds to 1 minute; let drain on a paper towel.

Working in 2 batches, add chicken to pan and cook until golden and cooked through, about 2 minutes per each side. Divide chicken among 4 plates and top with spinach, squash, onion, and sage.

*Tips:

  • Cooking red-pepper flakes mellows their heat, but if you prefer, replace with fresh cracked black pepper instead. (I use red-pepper flakes, then before I cut and serve my toddler’s chicken, I scrape off the larger pieces so that she still gets the flavor without the fire.)
  • If kabocha squash (pictured below) is unavailable in your supermarket, substitute acorn squash — both can be eaten with the rind, just remember to remove the stem and end piece.

Kabocha Squash

*How To Halve a Chicken Breast:

To halve a chicken breast, lay the breast flat on a cutting board with the smooth side down. Using a sharp knife, cut away the small piece of meat that’s attached to the larger breast, called the “tender.” Set tender aside and freeze for another use (hint, hint…I’ll be posting a recipe for chicken tenders soon).

Butterflying a chicken 1

Turn breast over. With your knife, begin slicing the breast in half horizontally, all the way through. Repeat with second breast.

Butterflying a chicken 2

Butterflying a chicken 3

Lay 4 breast halves on a piece of plastic wrap and top with a second piece of plastic wrap. Using a meat mallet, pound chicken all over until you’ve reached an even thickness of about ⅛-inch.

Butterflying a chicken 4

Sidekicks:

  • This dish pairs well with a Dry Riesling, which counters the slight heat from the red-pepper flakes.
  • Serve chicken with red quinoa (pictured): Cook 1 cup dry red quinoa per package instructions, but replace water with chicken stock. Once cooked, mix in ¼ cup slivered almonds.

Red Quinoa with Slivered Almonds

Food for the New Year: Healthy Snacks

Food for the New Year: Healthy Snacks

Healthy Snacks

 

I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions, but every January I find myself saying, “I’m going to live healthier this year.” Although we already eat well balanced meals in our home, and I workout (occasionally), I struggle with the mid-day snacking and saying no to the bowl of microwave popcorn my husband likes to make after dinner. With that in mind, I’ve decided to stock our pantry with smart alternatives to the cheddar cheese crackers that somehow find their way onto my shelves every week. Now, instead of reaching for a bag of fat-laden snack food, I’ll be baking up a crispy batch of kale chips instead!

Below are some suggestions for low-calorie, high flavor tidbits to help you curb your appetite between meals, refuel after a workout, or beat the midnight munchies.

Note: With the exception of the Low-Fat Deviled Eggs (which she said made her tongue “ouchy”), all of these snacks have been taste-tested and toddler approved.

Low-Fat Deviled Eggs with a Kick!

Low-Fat Deviled Eggs

Normally considered a picnic splurge, this low-fat version of the classic deviled egg can be enjoyed all year long without the guilt — or the ants! The addition of horseradish kicks up the flavor to help curb your appetite.

Serves 6 (serving size: 2 halves)

6 eggs
¼ cup low fat cottage cheese
2 Tbsp. low fat mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. prepared horseradish
1 tsp. dijon mustard
1 tsp. white wine vinegar
6 small celery leaves for serving (optional)
Kosher salt

Place eggs in a single layer in a saucepan; cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium-high and cook for 12 minutes. Remove eggs from heat, and place in a bowl of ice-cold water. Let stand until cool enough to handle before peeling.

While eggs are cooling, mix cottage cheese and next 4 ingredients in a bowl with an hand blender, or in a small food processor until smooth.

Peel eggs and discard shells. With a wet knife, cut eggs lengthwise and scoop out yolk. Add egg yolks to cottage cheese mixture and stir until combined. Season with salt.

Fill eggs with yolk mixture and top with a celery leaf.

Deviled eggs can be covered and stored in the refrigerator for 1 day.

Kale Chips

Kale Chips

Kale is a wonderful source of calcium; potassium; vitamins A, C, and K; and provides anti-inflammatory benefits for the body — so it’s a great snack to counter some of those aches and pains you’ll likely experience from your new workout routine.

Serving size: It’s kale — eat as much as you want!

2 bunches of curly leaf kale (green or red, or a colorful mix of the two)
4 Tbsp. olive oil
½ tsp. Kosher salt
¼ tsp. fresh cracked pepper
½ tsp. of flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, or another of your favorite savory seasonings (eg. smoked paprika, chili powder, garlic powder, or Johnny’s Seasoning Salt)

Preheat oven to 350° and lightly spray three rimmed baking sheets with non-stick cooking spray. Fold the kale in half lengthwise, then with a sharp knife, cut the stem away from the leaves. Tear kale into 2″x2″ pieces, wash with cold water, lay flat on a clean kitchen towel and thoroughly pat dry. In a bowl, toss kale with olive oil and salt, then spread in a single layer onto baking sheets. Make sure the kale pieces are not too crowded, otherwise they will steam rather than dry out, so use a fourth sheet if necessary.

Sprinkle pepper evenly over kale, then bake for 15 minutes, or until crispy but not burned. Remove from oven and sprinkle with flaky sea salt or other desired seasoning. If there are any soft pieces of kale remaining, return to the oven and bake for an additional 2-4 minutes.

Let cool before eating. Kale can be stored in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Do not refrigerate.

Edamame

Edamame

These tasty little soy beans are packed full of protein, fiber, calcium, iron, and many of your essential daily vitamins and minerals, which just goes to show that good things really do come in small packages! (Edamame can be found in the freezer section of your grocery store, usually with the frozen vegetables. Look for edamame in their pods.)

Serves 2 (serving size: 1 ⅛ cup edamame)

2 ¼ cup edamame in their pods, cooked per package instructions
1 tsp. flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)

Place cooked edamame in a bowl and sprinkle with sea salt. With your teeth, squeeze soy beans from pods directly into mouth, discard pods. Smile. Repeat.

Quick Pickled Veggies

Quick Pickled Veggies

Nothing satisfies my munchies more than this crisp, tart salad. Try it by itself or as a lunchtime accompaniment to a healthy, low-fat tuna sandwich.

Serves 2 (serving size: 1 ½ cup salad)

3 cups mixed vegetables, julienned (carrots, celery, bell peppers, broccoli stems, cabbage, or whatever else you like)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
⅛ tsp. ground coriander (optional)
½ tsp. Kosher salt
Fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Place veggies in a serving bowl. In a measuring cup, whisk together remaining ingredients until thoroughly combined. Pour vinaigrette over veggies, toss and let stand for 10 minutes. Toss again, then serve.

Shortcut: Bags of precut matchstick vegetables are available in the produce section of most grocery stores.

Blue Cheese and Almond Dates

Blue Cheese Almond Dates

Dates and blue cheese have been found to benefit the intestinal tract, so swap out your evening dessert for these tasty little treats and you’ll not only beat your sweet tooth, you’ll go to bed with a happy stomach as well.

Serves 4 (serving size: 3 dates)

12 large pitted dates
4 Tbsp. blue cheese
2 Tbsp. slivered almonds, coarsely chopped

Slice dates open with a sharp knife. Fill each date with 1 tsp. of blue cheese, then lightly squeeze date closed. Roll open side of date in diced almonds so that they cover the blue cheese. Enjoy after dinner with an ounce of your favorite digestif, such as brandy, grappa, ouzo, or dry sherry.